What Not to Chew

Q. We have a temporary (although with no end date) staffer in our office who constantly slurps, chews with his mouth open and smacks his lips when he eats. Because we have a small office, almost everyone hears these noises and at least two other people have expressed that they are distracting and bothersome. I sometimes find it nearly impossible to concentrate because [of] these noises.

Is there a polite, diplomatic way to tell this person to be a little more considerate while consuming their lunch? Should I express my issue to my supervisor?

I’m trying to gauge how serious this is from your email. We’ve all had the loud-munching, throat-clearing, sloppy-eating coworker in the cubicle next door. A colleague of mine worked in an office where a coworker ate tunafish salad every day, much to her chagrin. And even the quietest of coworkers comes down with a cold once in awhile, with the requisite sneezing and nose-blowing that accompanies it.

Some of this comes with the small-office territory. People who eat lunch at their desks tend to keep it brief, and some things can’t be helped. We’d all love to eat sit down meals in an office cafeteria, but realistically, sometimes coworkers are subjected to our fragrant meals and unsavory eating habits.

But let’s assume this is an extreme situation, where multiple people can’t concentrate. Is this really the time when you want to go to your supervisor and ask him/her to take action? Hill Navigator often encourages talking to your boss to improve a situation — but most of this has to do with responsibilities, career growth and pay increases. What you’re talking about is tattling on someone whose 15 minutes of mealtime manners is likely not affecting office productivity or morale.

Your best bet? Ask the temporary staffer to join you for lunch one day. Go to the Longworth cafeteria or someplace out of the office. While you’re getting to know him/her, mention the frustrations of a small office and the clamor that eating at your desks can bring. Without singling him out, you’ll be making an ally and likely giving him the discreet information he needs to chew a bit more quietly.